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Gibson scandal could doom his movie career

Talent agents and studio executives say it will be difficult for Gibson to be hired as an actor or director on a mainstream project. Gibson is heard on tapes threatening former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.

July 13, 2010|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

As Mel Gibson's legal and publicity problems mount, his prospects for a future in mainstream Hollywood grow dimmer.

Eight minutes of new audio surfaced on Monday capturing Gibson's angry and expletive-laden rant to ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. The recording, which appeared on the website Radar Online, follows an earlier release on the site of a tape in which Gibson uses foul and threatening language toward Grigorieva as well as the N-word. Monday's audio features an increasingly apoplectic Gibson threatening Grigorieva, with whom he's locked in a child custody battle, yelling at her that she needs a "bat to the side of the head" and that he could put her "in a … rose garden" if he wanted to. (Although the audio has not been independently verified by The Times, no one involved in the incident, including representatives from Gibson's camp, has called its authenticity into question.)

Interviews with a number of Hollywood talent agents and studio executives on Monday suggest that as a result of these recordings, Gibson has become anathema in the entertainment business; the insiders see little way Gibson would be hired as either an actor or director on any mainstream film.

On Friday, the news broke that Gibson had been dropped by his agency, William Morris Endeavor, around the time that the first reports of a diatribe against Grigorieva surfaced and as his longtime agent and supporter, Ed Limato, lay on his deathbed, both of which may have been factors in the decision.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also has confirmed that it is investigating the actor in a domestic abuse case. In the new recording, which will be added to evidence already being reviewed by detectives, the onetime A-lister seems to acknowledge that he hit Grigorieva, the mother of his child, when he responds to her mention of him hitting her by saying, "you … deserved it."

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the investigation would not be affected by Gibson's celebrity. "First of all there was no favoritism last time [referring to the 2006 Malibu incident]. There is no favoritism this time," Whitmore said. "We're just doing our job." The department faced criticism after Gibson's 2006 drunk driving arrest after it was suggested that the actor's anti-Semitic comments be expunged from the arrest report.

On Monday, Gibson's publicist, Hollywood veteran Alan Nierob, said that his client had no comment on the current scandal.

It's unlikely, agents in Hollywood said, that Gibson would be signed by another powerhouse Hollywood agency given his current low stock. But at least one smaller agency casually discussed the pros and cons of signing Gibson, an agent at the company said. At a meeting on Monday, the agency's staff debated whether it was worth the bad PR that would surely accompany such a move.

Experts in crisis public relations said Gibson was in a maelstrom of trouble that would challenge the best of their craft. "He needs to find an appropriate villain in this issue, and as long as he can't put it on alcohol and drug abuse, he's going to be the villain," said Jason Maloni a strategist at the publicity agency Levick Strategic Communications.

But he also said that the actor-director's career and image were, even after several offenses, not beyond salvaging. "Mel Gibson is first and foremost an artist, and as long as he can produce great work, he'll have a way forward," Maloni said, while acknowledging a Catch-22 problem in which Gibson may need to produce good work to resurrect his public image, but it would take a resurrection of his public image before a studio would hire him to work.

Many of Gibson's allies in Hollywood have remained quiet as the controversy has mushroomed.

On Monday, representatives for Jodie Foster, Gibson's longtime friend and his director and costar in his new movie "The Beaver," said that she was in post-production and unable to comment. A spokeswoman for Graham King, the producer who worked with Gibson on his recent film "Edge of Darkness" and has been planning a Viking epic that Gibson would direct, said King was on the set of another film and was unavailable to comment.

A spokeswoman for Danny Glover, the often vocal African American actor who costarred with Gibson in the four "Lethal Weapon" movies — the franchise that, with its biracial pairing, helped shoot Gibson to the top of the action-star A-list — chose not to weigh in. "At this time, Mr. Glover does not have a comment, and there is no statement regarding Mr. Gibson." When asked if that might change, the representative responded, "The decision is that he will not [comment]."

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